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The Hive (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – October 9, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Burns continues the story begun in X’ed Out (2010) of Doug, the victim of a mysterious head injury who vacillates between a dreamed existence, in which he’s toiling as a delivery boy in a hivelike netherworld populated by grotesque figures, and his memories of his doomed relationship with the troubled Sarah and her violent ex-boyfriend. The two realities begin to overlap. In the hive, Doug delivers old-fashioned romance comics to Lily, one of the young “breeders” enslaved to produce workers as the waking Doug reminisces about Sarah’s fondness for the kitschy comics. While the hive sequences have the nightmarish logic of a fever dream, Sarah’s disturbing behavior and Doug’s discoveries about his emotionally inaccessible father make his waking life seem somehow even more unsettling. Burns’ straightforward, hard-edged artwork, with its sensuous brushwork and dramatic shadows, makes both realities creepily convincing. Doug’s fate and the significance of the eerie hive will presumably be resolved in the third volume of this trilogy. Until then, Burns’ fans can luxuriate in the pair of bizarre worlds that he’s created. --Gordon Flagg


Praise for The Hive:

“Burns’s oeuvre is frequently cited as ‘strange,’ but that’s perhaps oversimplifying a world more thought-provokingly described as recognizably like our own, except for when it’s not—and it’s the difference between the two where Burns’s power to shine a light on the darker side of human nature lies…the result will stick with readers long after being absorbed.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Hive is a tour-de-force of psychedelic storytelling, an astonishing piece of graphic literature that combines strange characters, even stranger situations and locales, and multi-leveled narratives in a way you have never seen before on the page. Burns’ work is utterly unique, and he has no fear about experimenting and trying to engage the reader in new ways. Perhaps his greatest gift is finding a way to make you find empathy for people and things that you would normally find off-putting or disgusting. Burns is one of the few talents who stands above the medium, and deservedly so. Easily one of the finest works you’ll see this year.” –Comics Waiting Room 

“As if the introduction to this series wasn’t hallucinatory enough, this second installment will leave initiates feeling significantly disoriented. And perhaps that’s part of the point, as Burns blurs the distinctions within this anti-narrative among comic books, reality, drugs, masks, nightmare and identity…A very creative artist lets his imagination loose in the middle of somewhere, where only the most adventurous lovers of graphic narrative might dare to tread.” –Kirkus

“Burns’ clean, highly refined style contributes to an unnerving reading experience when reconciled with the slippery, seething and roiling quality of a story as it’s taking place—on multiple levels of consciousness, timeframes and planes of existence…Burns is making us slow down and savor this morsel of brilliance in a timeframe that starts to even out the ratio of writing time to reading time. If that’s vindication for an author—one whose visual style incorporates thousands of beautiful hash marks, each tapered perfectly with a tiny brush—then I’m all for it.” –The Comics Journal 

“If you want to play against type and give a completely nonholiday gift for the holidays, wrap up a copy of Charles Burns’s The Hive. It’s a creepy tour de force, weaving together layers of paranoid nightmares, and a sequel to Burns’s X’ed Out. It’s as though the tenants of Ware’s townhouse all dropped bad acid at the same time, and Burns’s drawing delivers the horror in full-color, palm-sweating detail, complete with armies of maggots, sadistic lovers, and desolate underground factories patrolled by foul-mouthed alien overlords. Not a stocking stuffer for the little ones.” –Boston Globe gift guide
“Intelligent, carefully crafted and emphatically not for everyone.” –Paste Magazine
“The beautifully disturbing, non-linear tale leaps effortlessly between the real and unreal. Though in this installment, the lines further blur as elements from the bizarrely apocalyptic reality and the ‘normal’ collide. Inspired equally by the works of Hergé and William Burroughs, Burns once again provides one of the best graphic novels of the year.” –Nexus Graphica Top Ten

Praise for X'ed Out:

"Terrifically creepy . . . I loved every second of this book." Boing Boing

"Burns's comics are fluid, smooth and as solidly built as a vintage TV set, but they shudder with the chill of the uncanny." The New York Times Book Review

"A surrealistic, often horrifying book . . . a Tintin homage for grown-ups." The Stranger

"A fantastic meta-reality where Burns' spastic yet tightly reined imagination is allowed to feed on itself deliciously." AV Club, "A" review

"Taps into the archive of gothic and grotesque imagery . . . What's dormant inside of Tintinthe abject fear that Hergé rarely acknowledgesX'ed Out brings to life." The Comics Journal

"Cause for celebration . . . a visual feast as much as a literary one, and it dwells in the mind long after the final pages have turned." Culture Mob

"Tantalizing...a gorgeous head trip." New York Magazine

"Bizarre, haunting, horrific, funny . . . Burns is skilled at paralyzing readers, and leading us into worlds we never knew existed." USA Today

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Product Details

  • Series: Pantheon Graphic Novels
  • Hardcover: 56 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st Ed edition (October 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307907880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307907882
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.6 x 11.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the 2nd part of a trilogy that begins with 2010's X'ed Out, so you'll want to read that as well. The narrative is fragmentary enough that I suppose you could read this first if you wanted to.
I don't think I should describe the "story" for you, even if I could. Some very obvious themes, carried over from X'ed Out, are: alternate/parallel worlds, relationships, (body) horror, memory, image, father and son, pregnancy, opiates, and art. This work resonates with all kinds of other comics and movies and literature and art, but this is a powerful cohesive work unto itself.
Burns has been telling non-linear narratives since before Black Hole, but this is shaping up to be by far the most advanced yet. It would take a while to map out even the explicitly distinct time/reality frames that the story takes place across so far, and to trace all the resonant images and text that link multiple strands together in various more and less mysterious ways would take much longer.
This fragmentary approach might have something to do with Burns presenting this as a serialized trilogy... also, we're constantly shown comics within comics, comics within dream sequences?, photos (not actual photos) within comics, etc... Overall, just amazing use of images that you can't get out of your head, in a way that curls back and comments on itself many times over. As with Black Hole, Burns shows himself to be a master of the comics medium, and this trilogy looks to be in every way a worthy successor to Black Hole. That said, this is "super weird" and not for everybody. Highest recommendation to those interested in a surreal body horror, non-linear narrative, thoroughly postmodern, beautifully designed, hardcover comic book.
The only complaint I can imagine is (as with the first volume) the length of this book, at 56 pages. Not an issue for me, because this is the way Burns wanted to tell his story, and it freaking works. This is a work to revisit many times.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Charles Burns is probably best known for his Black Hole series which remains the best starting point for exploring his works. Since then he has started a new trilogy which starts with X'ed Out and continues with this book (book 2 in the series). Supposedly, there will be only one more entry in the series. Burns has spent his career perfecting his artwork and this book presents the best example of his composition, linework, and inking abilities, combined with a coloring technique that is first being presented in this series (his previous work was in black and white). The story content is focused on an exaggerated version of teenage miseries, combined with a strange and creepy fantasy life that seems to be leaking out into the real world. In that sense it is very much of a piece with Black Hole. Many questions are asked, few are answered; and I wouldn't expect everything to be sewn up neatly in the conclusion, either. The binding, paper, and printing are extraordinary in this series, displaying Burns's superb attention to detail in every aspect of this series. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Re-reading series books in an actual series rather than as they come out over the years is worth it - at least for the good ones, which happily includes this title. I never noticed before but the cover shows Doug older and fatter, looking like he's got some kind of office job, in contrast to the Doug that we left in the last book where he was wandering about as a younger man in his dad's dressing gown in a haze with a bandaged head.

Well, shall we? Deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole we go...

Doug is still deeply troubled that the love of his life Sarah is no longer with him, though we still don't know what happened to her. Time has moved on and his life has changed but he's been unable to move on. He talks to a new woman - a therapist, a friend? - about Sarah and his dying father, and it looks like he's become dependent upon booze and pills to cope. Elsewhere in the fantasy world, he's still the young Tintin lookalike Nitnit but he's now working in the Hive alongside the lizardmen to supply the breeders with romance comics.

Images, scenes, phrases noticeably begin repeating immediately. The Japanese romance comic that opens the book re-tells the story of how Doug met Sarah in the first book, and then later we discover Sarah loved to read old romance comics that Doug bought her at a flea market. In each version of the stories Doug is telling, romance comics play a part, and, mirroring this series and his own life, there are issues missing in between the comics Sarah is reading so she's not getting the whole story. The comics seem to be the key to Doug's story AND comics are how we'll find out Doug's full story. Layer upon layer of meta detail!
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Charles Burns is back at it again! I read his Black Hole series from start to finish in individual comic book installments and it was, probably, one of the greatest comics I've ever read. Now, I'm not a fan of 'super hero' comics or really any of the Marvel/DC universe of comics-their just not my 'bag' baby. But I've always loved Underground/Alternative Comics and Charles Burns is, without question, not only an immaculate and skilled draftsman, he's developed into a superlative and sophisticated storyteller as well.

In this, his newest series, He's creating a bizarre world of hard narcotic hallucinations bringing on, what one can only call, an ultra bizarre mix of Tin-Tin and William S. Burroughs! It's really fantastic. The only part that has me scratching my head, is that it's a proposed 'three-part' series and I can't for the life of me see how this story will be completed in three parts? The first book was terrific, but left the reader a bit perplexed as to exactly what was happening at the end. In this installment, the bizarre story starts us off in a confused and difficult state. This isn't a bad thing, but by the time we're able to get a 'foot hold' on what's happening in this one, we are thrown off again into another 'whirl' of confusion-again, this is fine- I love difficult and challenging work. But I can only expect that the last installment must be exceptionally longer than either of these two, or that it's a story that will leave us in a state of perpetual confusion. Perhaps that is the point? Either way, I'm waiting with baited breath for the next installment of Burns' new work-he just gets better and better.
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